Random Encounters: Arctic Tundra
Updated: Mar 4
It feels like time to do another set of Random Encounters, and this is a setting I'm particularly excited about! I've DMd 'Icewind Dale: Rime Of The Frostmaiden' in the past and created some campaign specific random encounters for it, and so some of these are adapted from that while others are thought up from scratch!
The Arctic Tundra is a setting with so much potential! A lonely, endless expanse of white. Just like the desert or the sea, its vastness has great potential for injecting some horror, and players can really stumble upon just about anything without it being too unusual. There's a lot of really interesting creatures that live in the arctic biome too! All stat blocks that I've curated are from books published by Wizards Of The Coast!
Levels 1-4 (Roll 1d12):
The party meet with 1d6 + 2 Scouts who are trappers for their local community. They offer to stop for a rest or walk with the party and, if the interaction goes well, will offer them some useful advice about the perils of the tundra or a rumour of a nearby treasure or quest.
As the party walk, 1 Polar Bear nearby will wake and shake snow from it’s fur. It is hungry and, upon seeing the party, will become hostile.
1d4 Chwingas pop up from seemingly nowhere, mischievously throw a snowball at the party, and attempt to play with them. If the party take this in good humour, they may receive a blessing.
The party encounter a strange lump of snow that is vaguely humanoid in shape, seemingly moulded unnaturally. If the party get too close to investigate, it springs to life and becomes a very hostile Snow Golem.
The party find the body of someone who has clearly died of exposure to the elements. On their body is one Uncommon magical item of the DM’s choice.
A herd of 5d6 Elk pass by. They will not become hostile unless the party threatens them in any way.
2 Rhinoceros covered in woolly fur will attack if the party come too close. They are riled up and territorial.
A group of 1d8 + 3 Kobolds are travelling together, huddled for warmth. Some of them are balancing on each other’s shoulders shouting directions and they are using humanoid sized winter clothing, with roughly 2-3 per coat. The presence of the party will frighten them and they will attempt to scatter.
The wind begins to really pick up. The party must make individual CON saving throws (DC 12). If they fail they suffer one point of exhaustion as walking and keeping warm becomes that little bit harder.
A group of nomadic travellers composing of 1 Reghed Shaman and 1d4 + 1 Reghed Warriors approach the party. Roll 1d4: on a 1 they are actively hostile, a 2 - 3 they are neutral and cautious, and on a 4 they are friendly and helpful.
A spectral Snow Maiden will appear pleading for help, and attempt to convince or lure away one party member away from the others to drain. If the party attack, another will join the fight and attempt to pick off any outliers.
A Fox keeps a cautious distance from the party. It begins to stalk a nearby Hare.
Levels 5-10 (Roll 1d12):
A blizzard begins. Visibility is reduced to 30 feet with disadvantage being imposed on any WIS (Perception) checks being made by those not wearing eye protection. The howling wind also imposes disadvantage on ranged attack rolls and limits hearing to a range of 100 feet. Anyone concentrating on a spell must succeed on a DC 10 CON saving throw or lose concentration. Blizzards last up to 2d4 hours and other encounters can be rolled during them.
A group of 1d6 Shield Dwarves have set up camp nearby and are heading back to their clan. They are indifferent towards the party, but could be persuaded to share stories, offer protection, or aid with supplies.
A group of moving distant lights may attract the party’s attention. Getting closer will reveal that they are a group of 1d4 Coldlight Walkers wandering the tundra aimlessly. They will attack the party on sight.
The party stumble upon a frozen, abandoned shrine to some ancient winter god. The deity may choose to gift them with a divine blessing dependant on their actions and behaviour around it. If they are disrespectful, they may gain a form of short-term madness or punishment instead.
1 Frost Druid wanders the desolate landscape alone. They will be initially hostile towards the players, as they are towards anyone that they deem to be from ‘civilised’ society. If the players can prove that they respect nature, the druid will calm down. Otherwise, they will attack in order to protect the nearby animal habitats. They may even call for help from some Awakened animals in the area.
A pair of Yeti are teaching a Yeti Tyke how to hunt some nearby animals. They will only become hostile if they perceive the party to be threatening the child. If a blizzard is active however, the party may become the prey that they stalk.
A pack of 1d4 + 1 Winter Wolves set upon the party. They make their intentions to eat them well-known but are willing to converse to begin with as they circle them.
The party are stalked and set upon by 1 Gnoll Pack Lord, 2 Gnoll Flesh Gnawers, and 1d6 + 2 Gnoll Hunters. They are hoping to take spoils back to their pack and are extremely hostile.
The party come across an injured Snowy Owlbear, still relatively young and inexperienced with the dangers of the tundra. Its pain fuels its rage, and any member of the party attempting to heal it must make a WIS (Animal Handling) check (DC 13). If successful, the Owlbear will no longer be hostile and might even become curious. It will follow the party for 1d4 days while it heals and may stay longer if the party actively try to befriend it.
The party stumble across a rare patch of scrub and a successful INT (Nature) or WIS (Survival) check (DC 12) will reveal that one of the plants growing here has special properties - medicinal or poisonous at the DM’s discretion.
An Ice Troll roams the area looking for food. It will attack the party on sight.
A group of 1d6 + 4 Axebeaks run across the icy plains, kicking up snow as they go. If the party so choose, they can attempt to catch them and use them as mounts.
Levels 11-16 (Roll 1d12):
The party stumble upon a nest of 1d10 + 2 Rime Worm Grubs who are starving and immediately attack. During the fight, an Adult Rime Worm will burrow up from beneath the party to protect their children.
The party find an abandoned cabin. It looks like it has not been lived in for some years. Inside is a locked chest, and if opened then the party find one Rare magical item and three Uncommon magical items of the DM’s choice.
The party come across what appears to be an ageing women knelt in the snow shaking violently. As they approach, they realise she is a Bheur Hag and is in the process of eating a humanoid corpse, activating her Maddening Feast ability immediately.
2 Frost Salamanders burrow through the snow and immediately attack the party.
The party come across a Scout being attacked by a Revenant. If the party intervene, 1d6 + 4 Husk Zombies will also join the fray. Once the Revenant is defeated, the subject of its wrath will reveal that his father wronged it before it died and he had come here to try to calm the spirits and make amends.
Two Winter Eladrin are stood arguing over their whereabouts, searching for a portal that will return them to the Feywild. They are vey upset and plead with the party to help them.
The party happen upon some old ruins. Upon investigation, they realise that this is an ancient Frost Giant settlement. A hoard of treasure can be found at the DM’s discretion, including one Very Rare magical weapon. If the party spend too long investigating or try to take the treasure, they will be attacked by 2 Frost Giant Zombies.
The party interrupt an ill-intentioned group of talented hunters made up of a Warrior (Level 7), an Expert (Level 7), and a Spellcaster - Mage (Level 7) that are attacking an arctic-dwelling Couatl with scales that shimmer like an aurora. It is very rare and many valuable parts can be harvested from it. The Couatl will telepathically beg the party for their aid, as it wishes only to return to its mate and be left in peace.
The party encounter 1 Frost Giant Everlasting with multiple heads, arguing with itself. It will become hostile towards the party should they capture its attention.
A deafening roar startles the party as they are set upon by an Abominable Yeti that has been hiding in the snow.
An ancient monolith stands in the middle of the vast white plain, made purely of black ice. Its purpose is unclear but there are very small runes from a lost language inscribed on the ice.
The party encounter a Young White Dragon nestled in an icy crevice alone. Though not actively hostile, this dragon seems sad and disillusioned with humanoids as every attempt to make friends and ease its loneliness in the past has resulted in them running away or tricking it and not returning. If the party choose to disrupt their journey to befriend the dragon or help it to find some friends then, at the DM’s discretion, they could be rewarded with something precious from its hoard and even a level of protection from the dragon while they are in its territory.
Levels 17-20 (Roll 1d12):
The party spot a huge fortress of ice in the distance. If they begin to head towards it, they never seem to progress any closer.
A Veteran travelling the tundra with a pack of sled dogs offers the party a place to rest and regales them with stories of the area and his adventuring days. He gives them the whereabouts of a powerful magical artefact that he regrets not going after himself.
The party spot 1 Frost Giant, 1 Frost Giant (Variant), and 1d4 + 1 Mammoths. They are not immediately spotted and can attempt to avoid them, but the two giants will attempt to capture the party to eat them later.
2 Remorhaz and 1d4 Young Remorhaz burst up from the ice and attack the party.
An Ancient Crystal Dragon has made its home within this vast, white expanse with the hope of gaining the peace it seeks for reflection on life’s deepest questions. Party members will please this creature with philosophical debate and finding meaning even in the mundane.
The party walk into an area filled with Unravelling Magic, roll on the appropriate table to find out the effect of this. The unravelling magic stretches on for miles and will be present while rolling other encounters.
A group of 1d4 Goliath Werebears travel in bear form. They do not wish to engage in combat and so will not attack, revealing their true forms if the party attacks them for any reason. Perceptive party members will notice that these ‘bears’ seem a little different in their behaviour or intelligence.
The sky begins to light up with strange, shifting colours. The sight is beautiful, and is accompanied by the odd sound of distant, echoing singing though it is unclear which direction this comes from. This lasts for 1d4 hours.
The party begin to traverse along a long stretch of ice. They get about halfway across when they encounter an area that is a little thinner than the rest and it begins to crack. Each party should make a DEX Saving Throw (DC 15) or plummet into the freezing waters below and suffer the effects of Frigid Water.
The party are set upon by 1 Ice Devil (Spear Variant) and 1 Ice Devil (Summoner Variant), looking to collect souls for their master.
While travelling, the party become aware of a low rumbling underfoot that gets louder and closer. It is a Frost Worm passing underneath. If the party do anything to attract its attention, it will attack.
A Silver Greatwyrm and White Greatwyrm fly overhead, engaged in an epic battle over an ancient grudge that has lasted for centuries. The party must make a DEX Saving Throw (DC 18) to avoid a breath weapon not specifically aimed at them but that covers the area. In this case, a success takes 0 damage while a failure takes half of 12d12 damage.
I really hope that these tables prove useful for anyone setting their campaign in settings with large expanses of ice or snow. As always, these tables are free to adapt in any way you like! They could be the inspiration for a new quest or you party's favourite new NPC! You could even adapt the CR of all of these lists so that they suit the levels of your party and then for 1d4 to chose the list before rolling 1d12!
I hope you enjoyed reading this! Has your party ever traversed the Arctic Tundra before? Let me know!